Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: REDUCE (11/05/15)
- TITLE: Step Aside, Pedants
By Noel Mitaxa
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Though we will start from way, way back; my first area of research still has relevance today.
Ancient Egypt saw the birth of papyrus. The sticky, fibrous pith of reed-like papyrus plants was removed from its skin and cut lengthwise into thin strips of about sixteen inches long. Placed side by side on a hard surface, they were then overlaid at right angles with more strips and soaked to increase their adhesion. While still moist, the two layers were hammered together, mashing them into a single sheet; before they were dried under pressure. Once dry, they were polished with rounded stones, shells or hardwood.
The speed of copying on papyrus; together with its flexibility, compactness and portability; far outstripped the baked clay or stone tablets which were all that the literary world had previously known. Its versatility―in mats, rope, sandals and baskets―left any attempts by clay or stone in their own dust. But its lay-down misere came as it expanded into boat making. When; with no hope of competing; stonemasons simply put down their mallets and chisels en masse.
However, a less-desirable aspect of papyrus arose as newshound sleuths began preying on the privacy of Egyptian celebrities and recording these secrets to sell to the highest bidder. These sleuths were disdained as the papyrazzi.
Let’s move on to music, which has come a long way. From purely rhythmic beats on stones or sticks; on through hollowed logs and reed pipes until more sophisticated stringed and brass instruments evolved. Yet there was still a gap in the fullness of sound, until the welcome arrival of woodwinds.
Their more mellifluous tones were deeply appreciated by audiences and musicians alike, with no re-percussions from drummers anywhere.
Dear reader, you may well be questioning papyrus’ and woodwinds’ relevance to the topic, but let’s acknowledge that these are both obvious examples of reed-use.
In a brief historical tangent, one ancient Egyptian entrepreneur tried to flood the market with reed juice, such a tasteless liquid that it never took off. His next venture was to try selling fragments of bone from the cattle in Pharaoh’s dream, but by then people were awake to his scam.
More recently, the glory of Tudor times was founded on the irrepressible, bombastic Henry VIII; who built England into a military, naval and economic superpower. And while historians may still debate his strategies and schemes, I’ve discovered one of his most closely-guarded secrets.
The dazzling finery of Henry’s court caught the breath of any of his common subjects who may have been sufficiently privileged to attend, but foreign dignitaries were equally stunned by the luxuriance of all he displayed. For shyness was not one of Henry’s strongest character traits.
Of particular fascination was the richness of his textiles―be they drapes, curtains, tapestries or robes. And most attention was focused on the deep scarlets, crimsons, browns and vermilions that lifted the appearance of the material to an almost luminous quality.
Other royals pushed their cotton and flax production to the limit, adding the strongest possible dyes, but their efforts went unrewarded. The Spanish knew that Henry’s materials were wool-based, but though their merino sheep produced the finest quality wool, they were also beaten. It would be at least three hundred years before these sheep would make Australia’s and New Zealand’s pastoralists so wealthy―but that’s another (true) story.
Still licking their wounds from the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Spanish spies made landing in Cornwall and advanced towards the Royal Estates. They made no secret of their nationality, and kept up such a barrage of praise for all things English that they slipped under the guard of traditional British reserve. So much so that they were accepted as “jolly good chaps, actually;” and they were invited to visit one of the estates where sheep were safely grazing (not too hard to Handel?)
It was then that they realised Henry’s secret, for right before their eyes was a flock of red-ewes!
Having now stretched your credibility for this long, I see the word limit approaching. Sadly, this prevents me from delving into Semitic history - re Jews!
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